• © Neil Ever Osborne
  • © Neil Osborne
  • © Neil Osborne

Sea Turtle Life Cycle

The life cycle of a sea turtle starts when a female lays its eggs on a nesting beach, usually in the tropics. From six weeks to two months later (depending on the species), a tiny hatchling makes its way to the surface of the sand and heads to the water, dodging every predator imaginable.  

"The Lost Years"

From the time they take their first swim until they return to coastal waters to forage as juveniles may be as long as a decade. This period of time is often referred to as the "lost years" since following sea turtles movements during this phase is difficult and their whereabouts are often unknown.

Following the "lost years", when they have grown to approximately the size of a dinner plate, their pelagic (open ocean) phase comes to an end and they return to coastal waters where they forage and continue to mature. During this time, these reptiles are highly mobile, foraging over large areas of ocean. 


As sub-adults and adults, sea turtles are more easily studied using a variety of techniques which enable scientists to have a better picture of their habitat, behavior, and distribution. The time to sexual maturity (when they are able to reproduce) varies among species but ranges between approximately 10-50 years. 

Once they reach sexual maturity they will migrate to nesting areas to breed.  Only females will come ashore to lay eggs, generally in the area where they were born. Most species will nest multiple times during a nesting season at intervals of 2-4 years over the course of their lifetime. 

It is not known exactly how long sea turtles live in the wild, but scientists think their life span may be as long as a century. Unfortunately though, turtles face a multitude of threats related to human activities. For more information about the challenges they face, see our pages about threats.


What is SEE Turtles?

We're a non-profit organization that promotes conservation travel through wildlife tours that help protect sea turtles and other endangered species. We work with quality tour operators who have passed our criteria to ensure low environmental impact. We're part of The Ocean Foundation.

Contact us for more information on the sea turtle life cycle.

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Sea Turtle Life Cycle:

green hatchling emerged
© Dave Addison, Conservancy of SW FL

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juvenile green-Bonaire
© R.P. van Dam